Johanna Devi: The rhythm is exciting
- Vijay Shanker, Mumbai
April 25, 2012
Germany (Berlin) based Bharatanatyam exponent Johanna Devi talks about her passion for classical dance, her company Johanna Devi Dance Company, her performances in India, Germany and other countries and what keeps her on her toes, for the last seventeen years.
Tell us about your childhood.
I started learning western classical ballet at a tender age. While on a visit to Chennai for the first time, I witnessed a Bharatanatyam performance and was completely bowled over by the beauty of movements and the fascinating rhythm that kept on ringing in my ears and that is how I determined that I must learn Bharatanatyam.
Who was your first teacher and at what age did you start learning Bharatanatyam?
I started when I was fourteen years old and the switch over from Ballet to Bharatanatyam was not easy, especially maintaining the "aramandi" throughout was challenging for me. My first teacher was Guru Savithri Jagannath Rao (Chennai) and I also had the privilege of learning from Rajyashree Ramesh (Berlin) and Lata Pada (Toronto).
How did your family members react?
Initially, they were quite skeptical but when they realised that I was quite committed to the art form, they encouraged me and today they are really happy about my progress.
What is your family background?
My father manages a book store, my mother is a nurse, my sister is a doctor and my boyfriend is a neuroscientist.
Tell us about your dance company.
Johanna Devi Dance Company performs contemporary dance and Bharatanatyam too. Although I am a trained western classical ballet dancer, I have evolved my own style of dancing wherein I express my own thoughts and create my own movements with a contemporary touch. I have not tried to make any experiments with Bharatanatyam as I perform with the music that is already set and I don’t like to disturb that. I can perform both contemporary and Bharatanatyam simultaneously but would not mix it, as Bharatanatyam has its own distinct identity.
What is the best part of Bharatanatyam that really touches you?
The story telling aspect, the devotion, the intricate rhythms, Lord Shiva and the meditation.
Who are your favourite Bharatanatyam dancers?
Mythili Prakash, Malavika Sarukkai and Priyadarsini Govind.
Where have you performed in India?
I have performed at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi, Chandigarh, Tiruvannamalai and other places.
Do you find dance lucrative and does your Government provide you any support?
The Government does not provide any support as the trend is more for contemporary and modern dance and not for classical. I am associated with the Indian embassy in Berlin and the Tagore Centre and I also teach piano music, besides my performances.
How would you describe life in Mumbai?
It is vibrant, modern and I like the weather too. I am fortunate to be in Mumbai as part of the organising of the urban exhibition which concluded on 22nd April, on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development and the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce.
Are you happy being a dancer?
Yes, I am quite happy. I performed in Mumbai for an international school. It was organised by my dancer friend Nandini Krishna and the response was amazing. I like to travel and move around which I find quite interesting.
Anything that disturbs you in life?
I can’t tolerate violence of any kind; it is quite disturbing for me.